The Two Sides of Vietnam

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Erick W. Miller

I’m about to say some unflattering things about South Vietnam as well sing some praise. My apologies in advance to the peoples of Vietnam for the bad things I will write about.

Colonialism is a sterile word for a sinful practice. All it means is that some wealthy and powerful nation forces it’s will upon an underdeveloped nation. In the process, the poor nation is more or less enslaved and their country is robbed of it’s natural resources as it’s people are robbed of their dignity and freedom. Plain and simple, this arrogant and thoughtless behavior by the powerful colonist country can be only be compared to the actions of the school yard bully.

France sucked food, aluminum ore, coal, rubber, and happiness out of the once beautiful Southeast Asian country of Vietnam. Beautiful cities were introduced to industries based on greed. Dishonest people rose to the top. Slums were created and depression and hunger set in. The havoc wreaked upon this tiny country by the violence of enforcing the colonists rule destroyed scenic landscapes. Pollution where there once was none damaged the eco-system.

Artillery and mortar fire destroyed much of the jungle. The French were finally driven out by communists who promised something the people needed. America and it’s allies entered the fray to stop communism and it’s false promises. More artillery and more mortars, plus bombing, napalm, and agent orange destroyed more of the vanishing wilderness.

Flying over the countryside in C-130’s or helicopters, I was struck by the contrasting landscape. Here, a lush, green rainforest with the beauty and promise of primal nature. There, in the same panorama, were the shattered trees and pock marks of bomb craters. To the east, clear blue ocean waters and white sandy beaches which were unfortunately littered with tin shanty villages and sprawling military bases. Herbicides cleared much of the greenery to paint a drab landscape. Slums were built around the base camps and airports. People broken by war and poverty catering to the vices and needs of the western strangers.

As the helicopters took us further west, we could look towards the seemingly endless jungle and mountains. On a rainy day, as frightening as it looked, the beauty and strength of this ancient forest never failed to impress me. On a sunny day, all the gloom and dread was forgotten. Soaring over this ancient and naturally beautiful country makes a man forget for a brief moment that the ride will be over soon to deposit us on the ground, back in the real world of war, death, and destruction.

Once again, we play the awful game of hide and seek where losing means death. Beautiful people of all nationalities have been turned into ugly masses of torn and bloody flesh whose souls have been released. Satan laughs in glee while strangers who might have been friends in another setting try to annihilate one another by any means available.

In the same day, you might gaze at the beauty of a waterfall sparkling in the sun or, simply by turning around, look at the destruction caused by man. It may be in the form of hillsides laid bare or your dead friends and enemies lifeless forms.

I have marveled at huge and colorful butterflies. I have stood on the side of such steep hills that I could watch colonies of monkeys play in the treetops at my feet. I have seen wasps as large as small birds, walking sticks and centipedes a foot long, tarantulas bigger than a man’s spread hand and spiders with elongated bodies bigger than my index finger. I’ve seen leeches on land and in the water and even one striped species with a hammer-head.

I have also seen huge birds and primates, a two foot long fresh water eel, snakes both graceful and beautiful. One common species along rivers was a striking black and white like an oversized California King Snake. Some were deadly and some downright ugly. I’ve seen lizards with loud voices and some with powerful three foot long bodies and tails of equal length. I’ve seen the tracks of tigers. I’ve climbed over vines bigger than my waist. All this beauty I loved and appreciated, yet I have also set off explosives shredding trees and foliage and torn up dense jungle with automatic weapons fire with mayhem my intent.

I pray that the country has overcome all this destruction and pollution, but I’m afraid to ever go back to see if it has. I am not sure if my frail grip on sanity could hang on if I ever saw or smelled Vietnam again.

Erick W. Miller Copyright 2004